The island’s roads don’t simply wind, they curve like a slinky that’s been gently pulled apart, as I drive up and down the mountainous terrain. Everywhere I look, there is the sea. I stop the car on the side of the road and take photo after photo, trying to capture the vastness of the blue, the glimmer of gold and silver that the sun dusts it with, the contrast of the arid, rocky land so characteristic of the Cyclades. It doesn’t work. Some things are meant to be lived not simply seen. Like touch. Or a kiss. The only reason we sometimes experience electricity run through our body when we see a photo of either, is because we’ve experienced them. Yet I long to share what I see with those I love.
But then I remember, this is self-imposed solitude. And I’m only on day two of five.
The first few hours are hard. My host picks me up at a spot that already feels like it’s the middle of nowhere. Half an hour later, we get to the middle of nowhere. “You look so peaceful,” she says as she shows me to my room. You’re a bad liar, I think to myself. I came to find peace. But I can’t get my friend out of my head. The one that was worried that I’m going on vacation alone because I can’t find anyone to come with me. What is it about solitude that scares us so? Why is it seen as a punishment rather than a reward? In fact, only two out of everyone that I told I’m doing this, and trust me, I told many, did not secretly think that something was wrong with me.
I lay on my bed looking out the window at the sea and feel the need to do something. To be somewhere. I consider watching something on Netflix.
Instead, I get in the car to drive to the supermarket, it takes me over an hour, the roads are narrow for one car, let alone two, I’m terrified that some speeding local is going to pop up from around the bend and throw me off the cliff. Of which there are many. I get back, determined to fight the feeling that being out of one’s comfort zone gives us. I walk onto the beach outside my room and discover that it’s not really a beach, but a bed of rocks. Annoyed, I go back to my room, but not before the three large ducks—two white, one black—make get there faster. I seem to have invaded their territory. I grab my laptop to write in the garden, but it’s so windy that my screen keeps getting whiplash. I start making plans to go home earlier. To cement and heat. I miss my son. I miss my bed. I miss my TV. And oh my god, I forgot my toothbrush. Soon, thoughts start to border on the ridiculous.
Back outside, I stick my head out of the property gate. The ducks are nowhere in sight. I begin to slowly walk on the rocks, past the nearby fence that was formerly blocking my view to the beach that’s two minutes away. I don’t swim, but make a plan to do so the next day. The comfort of its proximity makes my earlier ignorance feel juvenile.
I boil two eggs for dinner, and it’s ok, I light two large candles on the floor by my bed, and open a book. I sleep for nine uninterrupted hours for the first time in a decade, with the window open, to the music of the waves hitting rocks and ducks quaking.
The next morning, I shoo off the black duck that’s trying to get into my car and go back to that supermarket and buy a toothbrush. The roads already seem wider, the turns familiar, the locals non-threatening. I borrow a rusty, torn beach chair from my host, pack a bag with essentials and claim a spot under a tree. A lady just walking into the water starts loudly murmuring to herself about my choice of spot (too close to her towel), my reflex is to yell some obscenities, but I simply move my chair to the opposite branch. A few minutes later, a mom and her teenage son appear, I move to make space for them in the shade, she smiles. The sea is rough and raw, the pebbles range in sizes from peas to watermelons, the waves make it impossible to make a graceful entrance. I’m wearing the ugly beach shoes I dug up in the depths of my storage closet, the ones I wouldn’t have been caught dead with in my not-so-past lifetime. I’m alone. The random hair on my thigh, the fold(s) of my stomach, the un-matching bathing suit (last-minute packing should not be a thing), the whiteness of my skin, suddenly mean nothing. “What are you plans, what’s on the agenda?” says a text. Where will I eat, what beaches will I go to, will I have time to visit all the villages, have a cocktail a the must bar, try the local delicacies, and so on. I don’t have any plans. I want to see one village. I don’t need to eat local delicacies at the recommended restaurants or be surrounded by over-exposed bodies of teenagers and bad music at crowded beaches. And I don’t like cocktails. I want to swim free and naked, I want to listen to music that has been on the SD card of my car for years, unheard, I want to be awed by the blue, I want solitude to be a thing we strive for, I want people to see that if we never embrace solitude, we miss half of what’s around us.
If I wasn’t alone, here, in my divine middle of nowhere, I would have never told you any of this. Now maybe you’ll consider solitude. And I’m still going to post those photographs. I know someone will recognize the magic.